New Zealand extends Auckland lockdown period as more cases emerge

(Update 1 adds details from PM, rewrites, changes headline and lead)

Sydney, Australia, Aug 14 (EFE).- The lockdown of New Zealand’s largest city was extended by 12 days on Friday, the prime minister announced, after 12 new COVID-19 cases including two outside the city were confirmed.

The rest of the country will remain on Level 2 restrictions for the same time frame, which will cover the novel coronavirus’ incubation period up to Aug. 26, with a review of all restrictions on Aug. 21, Jacinda Ardern said.

“There is nothing to suggest we need to move to (the highest) Level 4 alert at this stage,” Ardern said in a press conference after a Cabinet meeting.

“Cabinet also does not want Auckland to be in Level 3 any longer than is needed to ensure the outbreak is contained.”

The national wage subsidy and mortgage deferral schemes will also be extended, while the COVID-19 Sick Leave Scheme is being modified to make it more accessible, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said, adding details would be announced next week.

The new cluster outbreak in Auckland was discovered early this week after four family members tested positive, breaking the country’s 102-day streak of no local transmission.

The source of the infection has baffled authorities.

Ardern on Friday said there was still no clear connection as to where the virus originated, but appeared to have been found “early in its life.”

Genome testing showed no link to border or managed isolation facilities for overseas arrivals, but did suggest “it is not a case of the virus being dormant or of a burning ember in our community, it appears to be new to New Zealand,” she said.

Test results of surfaces at an Auckland coolstore – where the first case is employed – are pending. All frontline border staff are being tested, widespread contact tracing is being carried out, and 30,000 tests have been taken in the past 48 hours.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins at an earlier press conference Friday said although authorities are still looking at human-to-human transmission as the likely source of the outbreak, there was still an investigation taking place into the chain from the border to the coolstore where frozen freight from abroad is held.

Of the 12 new cases announced Friday, 11 are considered part of the same Auckland cluster, while the case of one person admitted to a hospital in the city was under investigation, Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield announced at the earlier press conference, later adding that it is likely this case is also linked to the same cluster.

Two of the new confirmed cases were detected in the town of Tokoroa, about 210 kilometers south of Auckland, he said, adding that they were in contact with two people who tested positive and had visited from Auckland.

The cases take the total from the new outbreak to 30, while another case was deemed “probable.”

Ardern said she would make a decision over the weekend on whether to go ahead with the general election on Sep. 19 or postpone it as opposition party members have called for.

“I’ve got another 48 hours (to decide), I’m going to use it,” she said.

The new outbreak has surprised the country, which had returned to normal in early June after having supposedly eliminated all local transmission of the virus, with the only cases registered in quarantine centers for those arriving from abroad.

New Zealand, which was subjected to one of the strictest lockdowns in the world at the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic when it had about 50 cases, has recorded 1,251 COVID-19 cases, including 22 deaths, of which 48 cases are currently active. EFE


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